Cultural Competency in Health Care

Mamas on Bedrest: African American Birth Pros to Watch

November 28th, 2011

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that I have a passion for infant and maternal health care in African Americans. It is simply unacceptable to me that the rates of maternal and infant mortality in the United States are as high as they are (See Amnesty International’s report Deadly Delivery) and that the rates are 4-5 times higher in African Americans. While there seems to be a lot of speculation about  why, I still feel that there is very little being done practically. It is what drove me to start Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond and it is what keeps me going.

But thankfully, I am not alone. There are many other people who are equally invested in improving maternal and infant outcomes in the United States, but specifically amongst African Americans. I present two of these ladies and their work here.

Shafia Monroe, Founder of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing.

The International Center for Traditional Childbearing, Inc. (ICTC) is a non-profit African centered organization located in Portland, Oregon. It was founded in August of 1991 by Shafia Monroe.  In addition to being a Certified Midwife by the Massachusetts Midwives Alliance, Shafia is also a Childbirth Educator, a Doula Trainer, and mother of seven children. Shafia is also a passionate a health activist, organizer, and international speaker. Shafia created ICTC as a way to promote the health of women and their families and to train Black women aspiring to become midwives. ICTC encompasses oral traditions from Africa, the Caribbean, and the “Deep South.” They educate and advocate through community workshops, study groups, or just one to one support.

My favorite program is the Sistah Care program, that trains young women ages 13-17 to support other young women who become pregnant. These young women receive in depth training about their own sexuality and are then able to talk to and counsel their peers. Through this training, ICTC is able to  support young women who wish to become doulas, midwives, obstetricians or neonatologists in their life and career paths.

CommonSense Childbirth: The JJ Way (R) Model of Maternity Care

CommonSense Childbirth is LM, CPM Jennie Joseph’s trademarked model of maternity care. She bases her model on these principles:

  • Freedom of Choice: Labor and delivery can take place in any location the woman feels most comfortable.
  • Self-Reliance: The mother participates as an equal partner, with knowledge presented at her level.
  • Easy Access: From the moment a pregnant woman enters the clinic, a team member greets her warmly. This immediate connection is a simple but critical part of the accessibility of the practice. No one is turned away, and this reputation in the community makes it easier for women to take the first step of entering the clinic.
  • Team Approach: Each staff member has a role to play, from the receptionist who greets each woman by name when she walks through the door, to the office manager who knows every client. Family members, the father of the baby, and friends are also brought in as part of the mother’s team. Together all members are engaged in the explicit goal of helping the mother achieve a healthy, full-term pregnancy.
  • Connection Creation: We work hard to promote prenatal bonding not only between mother and baby, but also with the father, siblings, extended family, friends, and clinic team members.
  • Gap Management: The team works together to identify any gaps or barriers the client is facing and begins ‘gap management’ triage. We then work to provide practical solutions based on the real life situation of each woman and engage all pertinent team players and outside resources in the process.
  • Education: We inspire knowledge through alternative approaches to teaching, with peer educators, and by making waiting room time learning time, often in groups with an informal, friendly feel, yet still thorough.

Jennie’s goal is simple and elegantly stated in her mission statement:

The goal of The JJ Way is to eliminate racial and class disparities in perinatal health and improve birth outcomes for all. Key objectives of The JJ Way® are for pregnancies to reach a gestation of 37 weeks or greater and for newborns to have a birth weight of 5 lbs. 8 oz or greater, for women (and their families) to bond well to their babies and to start and succeed at breastfeeding. The JJ Way’s innovative model builds on the strengths of the Midwives Model of Care to reach a population that does not typically seek midwifery services.

These amazing women have dedicated their professional lives to improving health outcomes for African American mothers and babies. I am so pleased to know them and to wholeheartedly recommend them and their services for ALL women, but notably for African American women.

If you know of other outstanding African American Birth Professionals, please share this information below or  Send an e-mail to

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